Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Oak Island Money Pit

Whether or not there is any money under Oak Island is now pretty much a moot point with regards to its worth as a story in the grand traditions of swashbuckling epics. It is a tale of hope, faith, tragedy, failure and stupidity. 

Our story begins in 1795 with a sixteen year old boy named Daniel McGinnis. He made a discovery on the Nova Scotian Oak Island while fishing which would, over the next two centuries, cause people to lose their minds, and sometimes their lives. It was just a simple circular depression in the ground. The depression was under a tree and suspended from the overhanging branches was a tackle block (a type of pulley). This piqued the interest of his young, pirate adventure filled mind and he and a couple of friends (John Smith [in early accounts, Samuel Ball] and Anthony Vaughan) decided to "excavate" it.

A few feet down they discovered a layer of flagstones and I suspect at this point they all gave each other knowing grins. A pulley system, a hole and signs of protection on an island on the Atlantic seaboard? Did somebody say "treasure"?! As they continued to dig, and I'm sure with a little more enthusiasm now, they noticed the walls of the pit were pitted with pick marks and at every 3 meters they found a layer of logs. 30 feet down (that's 10 metres for folks like me) they decide to give up, probably not without much soul searching. They promised to come back and continue where they left off once they were better prepared. Whilst there was some talk in the press of the discovery, it took another 8 years before anyone returned to the Money Pit.

Daniel, Anthony and John plus Simeon Lynds formed the Onslow Company and set out from central Nova Scotia to resume digging. With time and media attention making the find seem remarkable, they now had the backing of an eager workforce willing to work for a slice of the treasure. This time they managed to get to 90 feet down and found layers of logs about every ten feet (3 m) and layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fibre at 40, 50 and 60 feet (12, 15 and 18 m). Now this is where things take a turn for the interesting. Supposedly at 90 feet they found a large stone with inscriptions upon it. Various people tried to translate it with one coming up with "forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried." Wishful thinking or amazing detective work? Sadly, but unsurprisingly for such a story, the stone disappeared in the early 20th Century.

The Onslow Company's dig had begun experiencing problems with visibility and waterlogging on the Saturday following their discovery and after breaking through another layer of logs they called it a day. The next day was Sunday and by the time they returned on Monday the pit was flooded up to the 33 foot mark. After a brief attempt to bail out the water, the project was abandoned until the next year. That next year they tried to drain the pit by building a second shaft, but this ultimately collapsed and, finally defeated, they accepted the treasure was not to be theirs and left the island for good.

Many years later, in 1849, the Truro company was formed by investors and they excavated down to 86 feet before the pit flooded once more. But they weren't going to let that put them off. They decided to drill deeper to see if they could recover any further evidence of what might lie beneath... the drill passed through a spruce platform at 98 feet (30 m), a 12-inch head space, 22 inches (560 mm) of what was described as "metal in pieces", 8 inches (200 mm) of oak, another 22 inches (560 mm) of metal, 4 inches (100 mm) of oak, another spruce layer, and finally into clay for 7 feet without striking anything else. A diagram of the dig at various stages can be found here to make this all a little clearer!  Frustrated by their lack of real progress, they gave up the dig.  

In 1861 a new company, the Oak Island Association, began a new attempt but the curse of the Money Pit would strike again; this time the bottom of the shaft collapsed (depending on your viewpoint either into a natural cavern or into a bobby trap). Then disaster following disaster there was the first, but not the last, fatality on a Money Pit dig when the boiler of a pumping engine burst. By 1864 the company had exhausted their funds and their options and, inevitably, they gave up. At least 8 further attempts would be made between then and the 1960s (including one in 1909 which featured a rather famous prospector; Franklin Roosevelt!) and most met with no success. One fared worst of all when a worker fell to his death in 1887.

In 1928 Gilbert Hedden read about the mystery in a newspaper and it wasn't long before he'd purchased the part of Oak Island which contained the money pit. He eventually began excavating in 1935. He attempted to dig where he thought a previous secondary shaft had been excavated in 1897. He dug 163-foot down and found several pieces of work gear and a Cornish pick. But given the amount of work carried out he couldn't ascertain whether this was from a previous dig or from the original excavation that supposedly created the Money Pit. In the 1960s the excavation was brought into the modern age with the use of a 70-ton digging crane with a clam bucket to create a huge pit, over a 100 foot wide and 134 feet deep. Despite this nothing was found. Sadly tragedy struck once more and four people lost their lives when they were overcome by fumes in the shaft.

In the late sixties Triton Alliance arrived on the scene and bought most of the island. In 1971, Triton workers excavated a 235-foot (72 m) shaft supported by a steel caisson to bedrock. According to Blankenship and Tobias, cameras lowered down the shaft into a cave below recorded the presence of some chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tools; however, the images were unclear, and none of these claims have been officially confirmed. The shaft subsequently collapsed, and the excavation was again abandoned. This shaft was later successfully re-dug to 181 feet (55 m), reaching bedrock; work was halted due to lack of funds and the collapse of the partnership. The pictures are thought to be so fuzzy you could really see anything on them. But this still hasn't daunted diggers!

Until recently excavations had stalled due to continuing legal wranglings in Triton Alliance. But in 2008 a new company Oak Island Tours Inc has arrived on the scene to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. This year work has begun to investigate whether to restart excavations on Oak Island

So is there really treasure in the Oak Island money pit? Could it possibly be just a sinkhole? Wouldn't that be ironic.... but it is one of the more likely theories regarding the money pit. But let us not dwell upon this too sensible, heartless theory and instead ponder who might have buried treasure on Oak Island? Many of the more romantic treasure hunters believe it is pirate treasure and not just any old pirate! Some believe that Captain Kidd used the island to store his treasure before he died, and Gilbert Hedden even traveled to the United Kingdom to follow up his belief that this was the case. These theories are given greater credence by the supposed booby trap elements, and the possibility that there is an elaborate network of "flood tunnels" leading from Smith's Cove there to frustrate any attempts to get to the treasure. It'd make One-Eyed Willie proud!

Others believe French army engineers, hoping to hide the contents of the treasury of the Fortress of Louisbourg from the British, dug the hole which might explain the complicated construction. And if you thought these theories were grand, you haven't heard anything yet... some believe a servant of Marie Antoinette managed to persuade the French Navy to hide her jewels here. And no that's not the most out there explanation. There are those who believe that the last works of Shakespeare are buried under the Money Pit and some even believe the Knights Templar (those stock conspiracy theory guys used to explain every mystery ever) buried the Holy Grail here! Now that would be a turn up for the books.

Millions of all sorts of currencies have been spent attempting to excavate this pit, in search of possible unknown amounts of treasure. 6 lives have been lost and people have spent many years of their life dreaming of what may be lying below their feet. But nothing concrete or substantial has ever been found... only tantalising hints and clues, just enough to keep hope alive and ensure that people will probably still be trying to excavate the pit in a hundred years time. And who can blame them? Whether it's a sinkhole, a hoax or buried treasure one thing the pit has offered up is a sense of adventure, purpose and mystery. Maybe that is the real treasure after all.

Further Reading

Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar: Solving the Oak Island Mystery by Steven Sora UK Amazon US Amazon

The Money Pit Mystery by Eric Walters UK Amazon US Amazon

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Giant Crocodiles

This week one of the largest crocodiles ever discovered alive was captured in the Philippines. At 6.4 metres long and over 1000kg's in weight, it puts the most well authenticated previous "largest croc" record of 6.2 m (shot in the Fly River, Papua New Guinea in 1980) in the shade. The Guinness Book Of Records states there is a 7 metre long crocodile in the IndianBhitarkanika national park, so perhaps there are even bigger monster crocodiles out there.

Sadly, as you can see in the picture above, the Filipino crocodile hasn't been treated with the respect it deserves and will now be hauled off to spend the rest of it's life in captivity. I'm hoping for a Rise of the Planet of the Crocodiles type break out in a few months time.

When a picture of Brutus, a mere 5.5m long saltwater crocodile from northern Australian, surfaced earlier this year there was a great deal of controversy over whether it was even real or not.

If you are still a Brutus denier, take a look at this video of him in action And he is a metre shorter than the crocodile captured in the Philippines! The other controversy was of course over the ethical and safety issues around humans interacting with salties... but when you get a picture like that I think there are more important things to consider such as what our future crocodilian overlords might want from us. Then there is the infamous Gustave, a supposed man-eater (with 300 purported victims), this Nile crocodile from Burundi is 6.1m long. He's inspired a movie, and regularly taunts would-be capturers. And there are still more huge crocodiles out there, like this rather large monster whose origins appear to be lost in the mists of an internet email fight...


But could there be even bigger one's out there? Truly gigantic monsters? There are of course reports which have been collected here and here. Given their huge lifespans it's absolutely likely there is a larger crocodile waiting to be found...

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Dinosaur Survival In The Americas?

Previously I've looked at stories of dinosaur survival into the modern era from Africa and Australia. Both interesting if completely bonkers examples of the genre, I now submit for your approval some more stories from the jungles of South America and elsewhere...

Alavaro Mesquita was a native Amazonian, who claimed to have a saurian encounter on the shore a swamp in the Rio Purús/Rio Juruá area of the Amazon basin. Whilst fishing along the shore he encountered he saw two red eyes high above the ground. Getting closer he saw what he described as a bipedal reptile, most closely resembling a Camptosaurus

He shot at the animal which fled deep into the swamp. He recounted his tale to a skeptical Rolf Blomberg, who was collecting interviews for his 1966 book Rio Amazonas

Another story, a creationist favourite, comes to us from a 1883 letter to the Scientific American called "A Bolivian Saurian,"

"“Sir,—The ‘Anglo-Brazilian Times,’ March 24th, 1883, says that the Brazilian Minister at La Paz, Bolivia, has remitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Rio photographs of drawings of an extraordinary Saurian killed on the Beni after receiving thirty-six balls. By order of the President of Bolivia the dried body, which had been preserved at Asuncion, was sent to La Paz. It is 12 metres long from snout to point of the tail, which latter is flattened. Besides the anterior head, it has, 4 metres behind, two small but completely formed heads rising from the back. All three have much resemblance to the head of a dog. The legs are short, and end in formidable claws. The legs, belly, and lower part of the throat appear defended by a kind of scale armour, and all the back is protected by a still thicker and double cuirass, starting from behind the ears of the anterior head, and continuing to the tail. The neck is long, and the belly large and almost dragging on the ground. Professor Gilveti, who examined the beast, thinks it is not a monster, but a member of a rare or almost lost species, as the Indians in some parts of Bolivia use small earthen vases of identical shape, and probably copied from Nature.”"

A possible overweight Bolivian sauropod (with multiple heads)?

The fascinating adventurer Percy Fawcett also claimed to have encountered a sauropod, which he claimed was a diplodocus, along the Brazil/Peru border. This sighting occurred during a 1907 expedition on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society to map the border area. Fawcett is worthy of a post all to himself... check out his Wikipedia page and more info here. His son, Brian, later sketched the scene he imagined when he father saw the footprints of this large creature. Note the tail mark dragging in the ground, an artists imagination running away with him as current scientific opinion (and common sense) suggests dinosaurs, especially sauropods, didn't drag their tails!

Another, more detailed, 1907 encounter by Franz Herrmann Schmidt can found here. Reports of this nature by explorers in the Brazil/Peru area in the first half of the 20th century are relatively common. Later in the century we get lots of more recounting of native stories of large Mokele-Mbembe like monsters.

If you think the tales of dinosaurs in the jungles of South America are off-the-wall, just check out some stories from with the United States of America!

In a letter published in the August 22, 1982, issue of Empire Magazine, a Sunday supplement, Myrtle Snow of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, wrote that in May 1935, when she was three years old, she saw "five baby dinosaurs" near her hometown. A few months later a local farmer shot one after it took some of his sheep. "My grandfather took us to see it the next morning," she said. "It was about seven feet tall, was gray, had a head like a snake, short front legs with claws that resembled chicken feet, large stout back legs and a long tail."

But these were not her only sightings. There were two more: (1) "1 saw another one in a cave in 1937, but it was dark green." And (2) "On October 23, 1978, as I was returning from Chama New Mexico, about 7:30 P.m., in a driving rain, I saw another one going through the field towards the place where I had seen the one in 1937."

In 1934 a South Dakota farmer claimed that a giant, four-legged reptile forced his tractor off the road before disappearing into nearby Campbell Lake. Investigators found huge tracks on the shore. Prior to this sighting sheep and other small animals had been disappearing mysteriously. Source
So as always no evidence (surprisingly the Bolivian Saurian's corpse has never been located!), but plenty of explorers tales!

Picture of Camptosaurus used under license from FunkMonk

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Open-Minded Skeptic

It's quite funny really. I started this blog during a, thankfully, brief period of unemployment whilst thinking about how I could make a popular blog about a subject I found interesting. I didn't realise how successful that'd be. I've not made as much money as from other blogs I've made (but £20 isn't anything to sniff at!) but this blog has proven to have a life of it's own. Even when my posts became sporadic and robotic, the visitor numbers have not faltered. It's the most popular and most subscribed to blog I've ever started.

So firstly, thank you to all of you who continue to subscribe (optimistic of you given my posting track record!). You are stars!

And for any newbies, let me set out my stall:

I'm a skeptic. I don't believe in sky fairies or an afterlife. I don't believe 99% of stories about cryptozoological creatures or UFO visitors or ghosts. So you might think I'm the worst person to write about the weird and unusual but in fact I bloody love the paranormal. I enjoy the stories, and I believe it's a skeptics job not to scoff at such reports but to look at them further to find out the truth behind them. Even if the truth is that people made them up, that's still a fascinating insight into the human psyche isn't it?

And I have a history. Like any good character in a horror movie, I have a dark secret from my past. And that keeps me open-minded.

Bigfoot in a garden? Or a blackbird in flight? 

This year I will return to blogging here, on various subjects but mainly on one that continues to enthral me: the mystery apes of North America (or the bigfoot or sasquatch to most people). I'm going to try and find answers to questions that have always aggravated me, such as why have we found no bigfoot remains? (I've already found interesting statistics on just how few other KNOWN great apes corpses and fossils are found). It's going to be a fun journey, and I hope you come along for the ride...

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist